View London Review, June 2008, 4/5 stars
Bleak, depressing but stunningly directed, Better Things is an unforgettable film that marks Duane Hopkins as a British talent to watch.
What's it all about?
A critical hit at the recent Cannes Film Festival, Better Things is the first feature by British director Duane Hopkins and features several unknown actors as members of a smalltown community in the Cotswolds, where a beautiful local teenager has just died of a drugs overdose.
Other characters include: the dead girl's boyfriend, Rob, who feels guilty about her death and seeks solace in -yes!- heroin; an old woman who can't understand why her just-released-from-hospital husband is so furious with her; an agoraphobic and depressed young woman caring for her bedridden grandmother; Rob's best friend, David, who's visited by his ex-addict girlfriend and decides to apply for methadone treatment; and, in the film's most compelling segment, a young teenager called Larry who only finds out his girlfriend Rachel has dumped him when he sees her making out with a motorcycle-riding older boy.
Hopkins eschews traditional narrative in favour of a series of character snapshots and the cumulative effect is nothing short of extraordinary as the recurring theme of love's power to hurt us emerges. Similarly, there's very little in the way of traditional dialogue, but the few conversations that we do hear (the old couple eventually discussing their problems; Larry's angry phone call with Rachel) are utterly devastating.
The cast are excellent with Kurt Taylor and Rachel McIntyre (as Larry and Rachel) perhaps the stand-outs. However, the actors playing Rob and David are a little too similar, physically, which becomes increasingly confusing.
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Lol Crawley, but what really stands out is the stunning sound design work. At one point, two characters are talking in a car and all the background noise is removed, leaving just the conversation and creating a dreamlike, surreal effect that works brilliantly.
If you can handle the relentless miserablism, Better Things is worth seeing for Hopkins' hypnotic, surreal and extremely powerful direction. Unforgettable.
Source | View London
Edinburgh International Film Festival Director, June 2008
Already lauded worldwide for his exceptional shorts, Field (2001) and Love Me or Leave Me Alone (EIFF Best British Short 2003), Duane Hopkins here makes a singularly assured feature debut. As stories of fractured relationships unwind against Lol Crawley's stunning landscape photography, the theme that emerges is the capacity of love to transform and shape the most humdrum life. Heartfelt, hard-hitting and richly textured, Better Things is an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Source | edfilmfest.org.uk